Heathrow UK Border Force strike begins – but no one seems to notice

‘It was kind of ridiculously easy’ – Angie, a Delta passenger from Boston to the UK’s busiest airport

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 29 April 2024 15:32 BST
Clear landing: approaching passport control at Heathrow airport
Clear landing: approaching passport control at Heathrow airport (Heathrow Media Centre)

The first arrivals at London Heathrow on day one of a strike by UK Border Force have reported no problems getting through passport control.

More than 300 PCS union members working for UK Border Force have walked out for four days, from 29 April to 2 May.

The strike coincides with the introduction of a new roster that, the union says, means 250 members will be being forced out of their current jobs on passport control.

The PCS said: “Members are committed to the action and expect that their walkouts will disrupt passport checks for travellers coming into the UK at Heathrow airport.”

But interviews with a sample of travellers arriving on the Heathrow Express at London Paddington station identified no problems with passport control.

Angie, a Delta passenger from Boston, told The Independent: “It was kind of ridiculously easy – no people in front of me. I put my passport down [for the eGate], it beeped and I was through.”

Other passengers told similar stories. A male passenger from Dubai with Emirates said: “It couldn’t have been easier. I went straight through. I wasn’t aware of any issues.”

A traveller from Dallas on American Airlines said he was impressed with the “super-fast” progress through passport control.

Most of the passengers The Independent met had been through Terminal 3. A woman who had arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 on British Airways from Hong Kong reported passport control was “very smooth”.

Passengers from the UK, the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore can use the eGates at the airport.

It is possible that travellers arriving at Terminal 4, which has a higher proportion of passengers who cannot use eGates, will face longer waits.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike but remain open to discussing a resolution with PCS union.

“The changes we are implementing will bring the working arrangements for Border Force Heathrow staff in line with the way staff work at all other major ports, provide them with more certainty on working patterns, and improve the service to the travelling public.

“We have robust plans in place to minimise disruption where possible, but we urge passengers to check the latest advice from operators before they travel.”

Heathrow did not give permission to report from the airport itself. It earlier posted on X (formerly Twitter): “Border Force officers at Heathrow plan to strike from Monday 29 April to Thursday 2 May.

“We’re supporting @ukhomeoffice with implementing their contingency plans. eGates will be open as usual, and most journeys should be unaffected. However, some longer queue times may be experienced.”

On Thursday 25 April, eGate failures across the UK led to some severe delays, with passengers at Edinburgh having to wait up to two hours to be processed through passport control.

Another strike, involving members of the Unite union, is set to run for a week in May at Heathrow.

Unite is calling out firefighters and staff in airside operations, passenger services, trolley operations and campus security from Tuesday 7 May to Monday 13 May.

The airport says it does not expect passengers to be affected.

A planned strike by 50 aircraft refuellers working for AFS Aviation, scheduled for 72 hours from 4 May, was called off five days before it was due to start.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This is another victory for Unite in its campaign for members' pay and conditions and workers at AFS should be congratulated for standing firm against their employer and winning these improved terms.”

Travellers between Heathrow and central London will be affected by the train drivers’ overtime ban that begins on Monday 6 May and continues until the following Saturday, 11 May. On Wednesday 8 May, the train drivers will strike and services will be reduced to half-hourly between around 7.30am and 7pm.

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